DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein Highlights Governor DeSantis’ Historic Environmental Achievements for 2019

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DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein Highlights Governor DeSantis’ Historic Environmental Achievements for 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An unprecedented commitment to environmental protection has made 2019 a pivotal year in our state’s history.

In his first week in office, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 19-12, which called for a $2.5 billion investment over the next four years for Everglades restoration and the protection of our valuable water resources. Under the Governor’s leadership, and with the support of the Florida Legislature, an allocation of over $625 million was made in the 2019-20 fiscal-year budget for water resource protection and Everglades restoration.

“When I took office a year ago, I set forth a clear and bold plan to address water quality in the state of Florida. I am pleased that just a year in, our state agencies have delivered on my direction, and we are making meaningful progress,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “As a result of the aggressive efforts of DEP, the state’s water management districts, FWC and DOH, this has been a year of significant achievements for water quality and natural resources in our state.” 

“The Governor has clearly made the environment a priority,” said First Lady DeSantis. “With a focus on water quality, accountability and transparency to ensure our residents and visitors are informed about the environmental issues facing our communities, the DeSantis administration is making a difference in the way we are protecting our environment.”

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor DeSantis, in 2019 DEP and its partners have been able to expedite Everglades restoration, protect and restore our waterways through sound science and project collaboration, including Florida’s iconic springs, and provide funding to our communities to improve infrastructure and our state’s coastal resiliency,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

“It’s great to be part of a team that places a premium on science, and even better to know that science and scientific discourse figure prominently in the policy arena” said Chief Science Officer, Dr. Tom Frazer. “As evidence of that fact, I draw your attention to the Governor’s recent water quality proposal that was guided, in large part, by recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. The Governor’s proposal is one of the most comprehensive and progressive efforts aimed at environmental reform that Floridian’s have seen in some time.”

Everglades Restoration

More than $625 Million Allocated for Water Resource Protection and to Expedite Critical Everglades Restoration Projects, Including Tamiami Trail, C-43, C-44 and EAA Reservoirs

Specific successes include the following:

In June, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that full funding has been secured to complete the project to elevate the Tamiami Trail.

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation has matched the state of Florida’s $40 million for the Tamiami Trail by awarding an additional $60 million to fully fund and allow for the completion of the Tamiami Trail Next Steps Phase II project, which is critical to the Governor’s plan to preserve the environment.

In October, DEP issued a permit to the Department of Interior’s National Park Service, Everglades National Park, for the removal of 5.45 miles of the Old Tamiami Trail, just south of the existing Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41).

  • This critical project is a component of the larger Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which also includes the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir and A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area Project. CEPP will provide the necessary components to deliver additional freshwater from Lake Okeechobee south to Water Conservation Area 3, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. This project remains one of Governor DeSantis’ priority Everglades restoration projects.

In October, Governor Ron DeSantis visited the site of the Caloosahatchee (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir to break ground on the embankments and canals to complete this important Everglades restoration project.

  • The C-43 Reservoir will capture and store water released from Lake Okeechobee via the Caloosahatchee River as well as local stormwater runoff. The project will reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary during the wet season that can lead to harmful algal blooms. It will also allow water managers to deliver critical freshwater to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary during the dry season when the estuary needs freshwater. The reservoir is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

At the Governor’s direction, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and DEP expedited the EAA Reservoir Project to help reduce damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries and send more water south to the Everglades. In October, Governor DeSantis, announced that DEP and SFWMD secured a termination to the agriculture leases on the EAA Reservoir Project site that support the District’s expedited construction schedule.

In November, Governor Ron DeSantis visited the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) site to highlight Everglades restoration and activate the pumps which began the process of filling the manmade wetland with water. The C-44 STA will capture and sequester nutrients and, in turn, provide regional water quality benefits.

The Army Corps of Engineers has begun the process to update the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.

  • This updated operation manual will allow water management alternatives to include the ability to store water within the C-43 Reservoir, C-44 Reservoir, the restored Kissimmee River and its headwaters, and the rehabilitated Herbert Hoover Dike as well as components of Restoration Strategies and CEPP South. It will later include the EAA Reservoir, Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project, Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project and the IRL C23/C24 Reservoir.

Chief Science Officer, Blue-Green Algae Task Force and Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency

Historic Appointments Made to Promote Science-Based Solutions and Increase Accountability and Transparency  

Chief Science Officer

Furthering his commitment to science-based environmental policy, on April, 1, 2019, Governor DeSantis announced the appointment of Dr. Tom Frazer as the state’s first Chief Science Officer.

  • Frazer oversees the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and serves as the head of the department’s new Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency.
  • With science and technology at its core, Florida is poised to be a world leader in environmental restoration and water quality improvement.

Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae Task Forces

Governor DeSantis’ administration continues to press forward to find solutions and empower our brightest minds to help protect our environment.

The Governor appointed top scientists to address the recurrence of blue-green algae blooms and red tide that threaten the environment and public health.

Red Tide Task Force

  • The Red Tide Task Force, spearheaded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), includes 11 expert researchers and leading scientists.
  • For over 15 years, this task force had been inactive and without funding. Governor DeSantis, however, recognized the value of this statutorily established body and led the effort to reorganize and revitalize it.
  • This task force will focus on identifying the causes of Red Tide and will be supported by FWC’s Center for Red Tide Research, which received $4.8 million in the 2019-20 budget,
  • The Red Tide Task Force will complement the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, which is the partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute within FWC and Mote Marine Laboratory.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force

  • The Blue-Green Algae Task Force, as indicated in the Governor’s executive order, was created to tackle, with a sense of urgency, the most critical water quality challenges facing our state.
  • The task force has met on numerous occasions to discuss many of the major sources of nutrient pollution in Florida contributing to blue-green algae blooms. Through their deliberations and input from a variety of stakeholders, the group identified basin runoff from stormwater and agricultural operations, onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems, and sanitary sewer overflows as major contributors of nutrient pollution and emphasized the need for improved data collection efforts and the importance of science-based decision-making.
  • In October, this task force finalized its first set of water quality improvement recommendations. These recommendations are already being implemented by the department or pursued through legislative changes.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force will continue to serve as an advisory body to the agency and is expected to play a key role in helping the DEP to fulfill its mission to protect, conserve and manage the state’s natural resources and enforce its environmental laws.  


To expedite water quality improvements throughout Florida, Governor DeSantis Proposed Historic Water-Quality Legislation Incorporating Science-Based Recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, and Legislation to Increase Fines and Penalties for Violations of Florida’s Environmental Laws

The Governor’s legislation calls for the following:

Water Quality

Improved water quality and alleviation of adverse environmental impacts due to nutrient over-enrichment will require action by all stakeholders in Florida. The Governor’s water quality legislation is the foundation for implementing necessary actions by DEP, local governments and our regulated community based on the science-based recommendation of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

Septic Systems

Septic systems are a known source of nutrient pollution and must be regulated accordingly. The DEP has the technical expertise to ensure that septic systems are permitted to be protective of both human health and the health of our waterbodies. DEP’s oversight of septic systems will ensure better placement and incorporation into BMAPs for more comprehensive future planning. The legislation proposes:

  • Effective July 1, 2021, oversight and regulation of the Onsite Sewage Program will transfer from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to DEP.
  • For the first time, DEP will be regulating septic tanks as a nutrient source. Effective July 1, 2022, DEP will be required to initiate rulemaking to establish setback distances for onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems to prevent groundwater and surface water contamination and protect public health.
  • An Interagency Agreement will be established for a five-year period where county health departments will be engaged in the permitting, inspection, data management and tracking of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems under DEP’s direction.
  • A technical advisory committee will be established by August 1, 2021 to provide recommendations to increase the availability of nutrient removing septic systems in the marketplace.

Wastewater Infrastructure and Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs)

Aging infrastructure and SSOs pose significant risks to the environment and public health. The proposed legislation requires utilities to develop inspection, maintenance and replacement plans for their collection systems. Utilities will have to develop capital plans to minimize infiltration and inflow and provide reports on their improvement progress, and grants DEP the authority to hold utilities accountable for improving their collection infrastructure, develop power outage mitigation plans and a proactive approach to minimize SSOs. The legislation proposes:

  • DEP will adopt rules to reasonably limit, reduce and eliminate leaks, seepages or inputs into wastewater collection systems’ underground pipes, which includes inflow and infiltration studies, leak surveys and additional reporting.
  • Require mandatory pumping capabilities for all lift stations that contain a wastewater treatment plan to address domestic wastewater within all BMAP areas.


Stormwater is one of the largest potential non-point sources of pollution. Stormwater systems were designed using criteria that is now decades old. The legislation proposes that:

  • By January 1, 2021, DEP and water management districts shall initiate rulemaking to update the stormwater design and operation regulations using the most up to date scientific information. 

Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Agricultural producers will play a pivotal role in restoring Florida’s water quality and BMPs are the primary tool identified in state law to achieve this objective. DEP will work with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to maximize enrollment in BMP programs and access the necessary data to assess BMP compliance and effectiveness. The legislation proposes that:

  • FDACS collect the data currently gathered by producers regarding the amounts and types of nutrients they are applying and share this information with DEP annually.
  • On-site inspections be required at least once every two years to ensure BMP program compliance.
  • UF/IFAS and other universities develop annually research plans and legislative budget requests to enhance/develop additional BMPs and identify additional nutrient reduction projects.

DEP is expeditiously working to implement the Blue Green Algae Task Force’s recommendations, whether through legislation or through other policy changes and actions they can take immediately.

The task force will continue to meet and will delve even more deeply into a broader suite of issues related to water quality and algal blooms moving forward.

Increased Penalties

Governor DeSantis has made it clear that enforcement of Florida’s environmental laws is a priority. Civil penalties are intended to be a deterrent and ensure immediate and continued compliance with environmental regulations. The legislature prescribes the fines applicable to specific violations in statute, many of which have not changed since 2001.

  • For a similar deterrent effect to occur today, the proscribed penalty amounts must be adjusted for inflation.
  • This proposal does not change the way DEP implements these fines and penalties, but rather calls for an increase in penalties to improve the deterrent effect of these penalties and incentivize resolving the environmental concern. This will provide an additional tool for the department to enforce the environmental laws already on the books.

Currently, penalties range from $50 to $50,000 and only are assessed for the days the contamination/spill is occurring. The Governor’s proposal calls for:

  • An increase in penalties of 50% across the board to improve the deterrent effect of these penalties and incentivize the resolution of environmental concerns.
  • Allowance of a daily fine until the issue is remediated or there is an enforceable order in place that addresses the violation – currently, fines may be forced to stop before any resolution is reached.

Under the Governor’s leadership, with the support of the Florida Legislature, the state invested the highest funding for Everglades restoration in Florida’s history and funded all of the Governor’s initiatives to achieve more now for Florida’s environment. This funding has allowed us to both expedite and expand our existing water quality improvement efforts. These fines will help ensure our investments in the environment are safeguarded.

$625 Million in Recurring Funding

Governor’s Executive Order 19-12, and Proposed Bolder, Better, Brighter Future Budget for FY 2020-2021, Call for $625M in Recurring Funding for Springs and Everglades Restoration, Targeted Infrastructure Improvements and Investments in Technology

$2.5 billion to be invested over four years, will help continue our success, getting more of the right projects underway faster and enabling the completion of multi-phase/year projects.

With this level of dedicated funding, we will continue to lead the nation in environmental restoration and water quality improvement.

 The Governor is requesting $625 million recurring for three years for:

  • Everglades Restoration
  • Targeted Water Quality Improvements
  • Springs Restoration
  • Alternative Water Supply
  • Innovative Technologies and Increased Accountability and Transparency

Informing the Public

DEP Launches First-Ever Water Quality Dashboard

To ensure the health and safety of our state's residents and visitors, DEP, FWC and DOH are committed to keeping Floridians updated on current algal blooms and how the state is responding to protect human health, water quality and the environment.

In November Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Joined DEP, DOH and FWC to launch the First-Ever Comprehensive Water Quality Dashboard.

  • This website is a huge step forward. For the first time ever, we are consolidating data and information from multiple sources and putting it in one place to communicate the most relevant information to the public, which was informed initially by stakeholder research.
  • This dashboard is designed to provide an at a glance view of key performance indicators in a manner that is easy to read and understand, holding DEP accountable for the water quality progress we are committed to. On this website, users will learn more about the efforts the State of Florida is taking to address water quality and view current water quality conditions in a single place on an interactive, convenient state map. The map currently displays blue-green algae, red tide and nutrient status in three South Florida water basins, but will be expanded statewide with additional data and features by the end of the year.
  • Ultimately, this online resource will allow Floridians to access and visualize data that characterize water quality in lakes, rivers and coastal waters throughout the state. We continue to expand data collection and remain fully committed to establishing a comprehensive, statewide sampling program that informs effective policy and guides sustainable management of our water and related resources.

As more citizens use the site and more feedback is received, we will enhance the site to provide the information our citizens need to feel protected and assured that we are committed to water quality improvement.

Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) and Coastal Resiliency

Governor DeSantis Appoints First Statewide Chief Resilience Officer to Better Prepare Florida for Sea Level Rise

By 2050, Florida needs to be prepared for nearly two feet, and possibly as much as three feet, of sea level rise.

To help address this important challenge, Governor DeSantis appointed the state’s first statewide resilience officer, Dr. Julia Nesheiwat.

  • Having a state CRO working with all partner agencies will help make sure Florida is leading the way in preparing for the reality of sea level rise and coastal flooding.
  • DEP’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection also continues to provide assistance to local governments with resilience planning and the implementation of those plans.
  • This program provides both technical and financial assistance aimed at preparing Florida communities for current and future effects of rising sea levels, including coastal flooding, erosion and ecosystem changes.

In terms of coastal resilience, our reefs are literally the first line of defense in Florida.

  • Healthy, resilient coral reefs safeguard against extreme weather, shoreline erosion and coastal flooding.
  • The state’s FY2019-2020 budget provides $5.5 million to be utilized by the Resilient Coastlines Program and for coral disease response efforts


$100 Million Awarded for Nearly 50 Statewide Springs Restoration Projects to Further Protect Florida’s Springs

DEP in conjunction with the state’s water management districts has identified $100 million in statewide springs restoration projects to further protect Florida’s springs. DEP is also implementing additional protection efforts including increased monitoring, enforcement and measures to ensure compliance with best management practices to restore and protect water quality in springs across the state.

DEP, in conjunction with four of the state’s water management districts, has placed a greater emphasis on monitoring of Florida’s 30 Outstanding Florida Springs than ever before. Improved monitoring of these iconic systems is central to our understanding of their ecology and key to the development of an effective long-term management plan. To enhance our knowledge of Florida’s springs, DEP is working with the state’s Chief Science Officer on the development of a comprehensive monitoring strategy to better gauge the effectiveness of springs water quality improvement projects.

Law Enforcement Transfer

Under the Direction of Executive Order 19-12, Environmental Crimes Unit Transferred Back to DEP to Better Align Resources, Better Protect Environmental Resources and Increase Enforcement of Florida’s Environmental Laws

In order to protect and manage the state’s environmental resources, it is necessary to have the ability to effectively enforce the state’s environmental laws. Previously, the department was limited to enforcing the state’s environmental laws through civil enforcement and referred investigations for criminal enforcement to FWC.

  • In July, the Environmental Crimes Unit (ECU) was transferred back to DEP from the FWC, aligning resources focused on environmental protection. This will increase DEP’s ability to protect the environment from criminal environmental actions while maintaining record compliance and its investment in public education.
  • Since the transfer, the ECU has made two large arrests and there have been approximately 55 felony and misdemeanor charges issued.


Record-Level Compliance Inspections Performed at State Wastewater Facilities in 2019

As part of our ongoing program review, DEP also identified the need for additional compliance inspections at permitted wastewater facilities and operations to include biosolids land application sites and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

  • DEP has hired 61 additional staff in the regulatory district offices to assist with performing on-site inspections at permitted facilities by the end of the calendar year. These inspections will focus on those facilities that have direct surface water discharges or have the potential to negatively impact surface water quality. To date we have completed 471 additional inspections, above and beyond our routine compliance inspections. By the end of the year we will have completed 2,000 additional inspections. This will be the first time all of these wastewater and stormwater facilities throughout the state have been inspected in a single year.
  • Additionally, we are assessing required water quality restoration activities such as enrollment, verification and implementation of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs). Agricultural producers are a key player in restoring Florida’s water quality, and implementation of BMPs is the primary tool identified in state law to achieve that objective. To address low enrollment rates in this program, DEP has recognized that we must work with FDACS to ensure that enrollment, compliance and enforcement efforts envisioned in the law are met.

Exciting progress has been made in protecting Florida’s environment, but the path to preserving our natural legacy for generations to come requires comprehensive and long-term restoration.

Dedicated funding, strategic planning, sound science and innovative technologies are necessary as we continue to protect and restore the natural resources that form the basis of strong communities and a robust economy.

Florida State Parks

Florida State Parks Awarded Fourth Gold Medal in 2019, More Than Any Other State

DEP’s Florida Park Service was awarded the 2019 National Gold Medal award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association. This achievement makes Florida the only park system in the nation to win a fourth Gold Medal award.

Land Management and Land Acquisition

Florida Conserves More Than 5,700 Acres of Land in 2019 Through Florida Forever Land Acquisition Program

Florida Forever is Florida’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving natural resources and the state’s natural and cultural heritage.

Florida Forever encompasses a wider range of goals, including water resource development and supply, increased public access, public lands management and maintenance, and increased protection of land by acquisition of conservation easements.

For fiscal year 2019-2020, DEP has invested more than $16 million, acquiring 5,737 acres through the Florida Forever Program. Highlights of these acquisitions include:

Fish Island

  • This is 57 acres on Fish Island within the Northeast Florida Blueway Florida Forever project.
  • The property is one of the last remaining undeveloped waterfront properties in the city of St. Augustine.
  • Preservation of this important ecologically and historically rich parcel is vital for the protection of coastal wetlands that serve as nurseries for fisheries and maritime hammock and are essential for storm and ground water protection.
  • Conservation of ecological significant lands also prevents development on coastal land susceptible to hazardous events, such as hurricanes, storm surge and flooding, and provides the local community with continued coastal resilience.

Wakulla Springs Protection Zone

  • This is 717 acres within the Wakulla Springs Protection Zone Florida Forever project.
  • The acquisition of this property represents a successful multi-agency public and nonprofit partnership between DEP, U.S. Forest Service, Florida Forest Service and Conservation Florida Inc. to protect water quality within the Wakulla Springs Basin.
  • The Wakulla Springs Protection Zone Florida Forever project is designed to protect the spring shed of Wakulla Springs and the land above the conduits that feed the springs. The property features 300 acres of longleaf pine trees and karst windows that directly connect to a unique network of underground cave systems forming the aquifer system of Wakulla Springs.
  • The aquifer recharge provided by the property is essential to the water quality and quantity at Wakulla Springs and the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve along St. Mark’s river shores in the Apalachee Bay.

 Hardee Springs

  • This is a 316-acre parcel within the Florida’s First Magnitude Springs Project, which is ranked No. 1 in the Florida Forever Partnerships and Regional Incentives project category.
  • Situated within the upland recharge area and primary focus area for Madison Blue Spring, this acquisition will further protect the Withlacoochee River by conserving an additional 1.5 miles of river frontage. South of the subject property, the Withlacoochee River converges with the Suwannee River, ultimately flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The acquisition will aid in the protection of springs and the Floridan Aquifer to ensure that Floridians and visitors will be able to enjoy our state’s springs for years to come. Conservation of Hardee Springs in conjunction with the adjacent forested uplands, will help protect water quality and quantity.

Ichetucknee Trace

  • This is 160 acres in Columbia County within the Ichetucknee Trace Florida Forever project.
  • The property is along a dry valley known as the Ichetucknee Trace, which marks the route of a major underground conduit supplying the first-magnitude Ichetucknee Springs with clear water. Ownership of this property will protect lands directly atop and adjacent to the Trace, including channels conveying ground water south to the springs in Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
  • The 2,669-acre Ichetucknee Springs State Park features spring-fed rivers, lush canopies and cool swimming holes enjoyed by visitors year-round. The trails host 15 distinct natural communities, from flatwoods to hammock, sandhills to sinkholes, upland hardwoods, streams and caves. The park’s wildlife includes several imperiled species, including gopher tortoise, Sherman’s fox squirrel, eastern indigo snakes and the American kestrel.

 Devil’s Garden

  • This is 5,534 acres of undeveloped native land in Hendry County within the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project.
  • Devil’s Garden is an important addition to existing conservation lands in the Okaloacoochee Slough and contributes to an ecological greenway that create a corridor connection from South Florida to the Panhandle. This parcel will allow increased public access for hiking, biking and bird watching on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
  • The northward water flow on the parcel leads to a canal that runs east-west and then moves north toward the Caloosahatchee River. The connection of uplands and wetlands draining both to the north and south are important to protecting state water resources. The natural systems of Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress Preserve are dependent on the water supplied from this area, and a majority of the Devil’s Garden project area lies within the Western Everglades Restoration Project planning boundary.

 Florida Keys Ecosystem

  • This is a 38-acre addition to the Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area on Middle Torch Key in Monroe County.
  • The property is located within the Florida Keys Ecosystem Florida Forever project, ranked No. 1 in the Florida Forever Climate Change Lands project category. This acquisition helps protect the outstanding waters and reefs of the Florida Keys, enhance recreational and commercial fisheries, and provide residents and visitors more areas of natural beauty to enjoy.
  • The property has long been considered a high-priority acquisition by FWC because of its pristine condition and location on sparsely settled land.
  • The parcel contains ponds and wetlands important to a variety of wildlife species dependent on a year-round source of fresh water, including Lower Keys marsh rabbit, striped mud turtle, ribbon snake, Key deer and numerous other indigenous species. Many local birds such as the white-crowned pigeon depend on larger intact hammocks for food and nesting areas. In addition, native fruiting trees and shrubs in these hammocks provide food and shelter for great numbers of migratory birds.